When the fire alarm went off at Schubas during Deluxe Editions on May 7, all heads turned towards Megan Stalter waiting in the wings to take the stage as the evening’s headliner.
“It wasn’t me,” Stalter said, but it took confirmation from the show’s host AJ Marroquin – an alarm was pulled elsewhere in the building – to validate the comedian’s denials.
As the host of FreakFest and Late Late Breakfast – and a staple on comedy lineups across Chicago – Stalter has become known for her deliciously dry, realism meets extreme brand of alternative comedy. Her commitment to bits creates a unique audience experience where fans are genuinely caught off guard in fits of laughter and, as in the case of the fire alarm, can lead to a sincere Stalter not being believed.
“When the alarm went off I started posing – I thought it would be a coy bit – but everyone was starting to get freaked out. Everyone was looking at me and that was crazy,” Stalter said following her five-alarm Schubas set. “I literally was yelling, ‘This isn’t a part of the show’ because I would do that. I would pull a fire alarm.”
At The Hideout – which Stalter refers to as “the most special place on earth” – the comedian has blurred the line between comedy and reality with an endless supply of hilarious trickery. Once she even invited fans to a fake wedding at the venue where she can be found hosting Late Late Breakfast on select Saturdays and FreakFest on the fourth Monday of every month.
With FreakFest, Stalter curates an atmosphere where comedians feel free to push the limits and audiences never know what to expect.
“I started the show in a little bar and it was just me and Bobby Condon who is kind of like this opposite of me, loud comedian who makes me laugh so hard,” she said noting that Richie Owens (“the sweetest funniest boy”), Steve Gerard (“kills me anytime he does anything”) and Caitlin Little (“does our tech so she makes the show great”) have also been integral to FreakFest’s success.
“It became this perfect moving machine and we got to do these crazy themed shows every week. We’d have a three-act play in the midst of all these variety acts. We’re now at The Hideout doing it monthly and it’s better than ever before. Truly it works there.”
Along with establishing her own must-see Chicago shows and working with Paula Skaggs as the sketch comedy duo Sharky and Sharko, Stalter has also been embraced into the fold of one of the city’s staples as a cast member of The Lincoln Lodge.
“That was a huge dream when I moved here,” said Stalter of joining the long-running show after relocating from Ohio. “I love The Lincoln Lodge very much and I love that they gave me a chance because I’m kind of like the freak of the group. I really love The Lincoln Lodge. It’s consistently good.”
Stalter feeds off the energy of audiences, but she also thrives with the freedom of creating pre-recorded projects including her insanely hilarious web-series “The Megan Stalter Show.”
“Everyone who’s been on the show has made me want to cry laughing. It’s hard to film because I just want to watch them. It was a dream day to make that and I think my main dream is to make something myself with my friends and people will watch it,” she said.
“Everything I do is with my best friends. I’m like a teenager,” she added. “I love to see my friends do amazing things. They’re so funny and I love that.”
Final Five Questions with Megan Stalter
What makes you laugh?
I think there’s nothing funnier than Pee-wee Herman when he’s mean. That sums it up. When an innocent person, who you wouldn’t think was mean, is being a brat, that’s very funny to me.
Stuff going wrong and people wondering what’s real and what’s not during a set. I do a set where I say it’s my birthday and I act like the host is going to bring me out something and they don’t. That kind of stuff where it’s trickery. Tricking the audience. Kate Berlant and John Early do things where you’re like, “Are they kidding? What’s going on?” That kind of thing is really funny to me.
And someone being humiliating without realizing it, but only if it’s in character. I have really bad second-hand embarrassment for people in real life.
Do you have a favorite joke either that you do or you love from another comedian?
“Summer Heights High” has one of the funniest things in the world to me. There’s a theater teacher in the show and he takes everything so seriously. He’s so funny. There’s this clip from the show on YouTube and he’s doing a way too long dance for kids in the class. I literally watch it any time I’m upset at all. It makes me laugh so hard.
What establishments or landmarks would you recommend for someone to visit in Chicago?
Of course, FreakFest and Lincoln Lodge (Laughs). Definitely Helltrap Nightmare – they’re some of my best friends and they are truly brilliant. Chicago Underground Comedy for sure, some of my best friends run it, and it’s incredible how consistently good that show is and how packed it is.
Late Late Breakfast is the most fun Saturday show. Me and Meredith Kachel, my best friend – Everyone’s my best friend. You’re like, “Oh my God this person’s ill” (Laughs) – kind of inherited that. It’s comedians doing different games. It’s open mic style and there’s pancakes.
Also the Green Mill during the day on Saturdays has a really great show. That place feels like it’s out of the movies. Go there even if it’s just for a drink.
Do you have any comedy recommendations to share with the world?
The Tim Robinson sketch show is really, really good, so funny. Patti Harrison is so sweet and so funny and she has the funniest sketch in that show. Everyone’s sketches are so funny but her sketch truly kills me so everyone look that up. Also, Tim Robinson’s episode of “The Characters” has the funniest sketches I’ve ever seen in my life, so good.
I was very in love with the show “Search Party” with John Early. It’s like scary, but somehow everything he says in it is so funny. It truly kills me.
The Three Busy Debras have a show in development that is going to be amazing. Those girls are so funny. I love them and they’re so sweet. They have a show that’s going to be on Adult Swim. And also Sarah Sherman, who’s one of my best friends, has a comedy short infomercial “Flayaway” on Adult Swim that is so good.
Another comedian I also love as a friend and on stage is Catherine Cohen who is from New York. She’s going to be at The Hideout. She’s so funny. Everything I think is funny, she is and I love everything that Christopher Guest does. That’s also a realistic character being insane, but you can somehow believe that that’s what they’re doing. So if anyone’s not seen him (sarcastically), you have to look it up.
What makes you Rebellious?
I think truly, I’m rebellious because I feel like I really believe in myself and I also really believe in my friends. I will get into fights for them. I’m getting better about sticking up for myself, but I’ve always been really good about sticking up for other people. I’m pretty loyal.